Japanese (日本語, Nihongo, [ɲihoŋɡo] (listen)) is an East Asian language spoken natively by about 128 million people, primarily by Japanese people and primarily in Japan, the only country where it is the national language. Japanese belongs to the Japonic (i.e. Japanese-Ryukyuan) language family, and its classification with other language families is unclear. Linguists have tried grouping the Japonic languages with other families such as the Ainu, Austroasiatic, Koreanic, and now-discredited Altaic, but none of these proposals have gained widespread acceptance. Japanese has no demonstrable genealogical relationship with Chinese. However, a large portion of its vocabulary is borrowed from Chinese. Loanwords have become frequent in modern Japanese, and words from English roots have proliferated.
Japanese is an agglutinative, mora-timed language with relatively simple phonotactics, a pure vowel system, phonemic vowel and consonant length, and a lexically significant pitch-accent. Word order is normally subject–object–verb with particles marking the grammatical function of words, and sentence structure is topic–comment. Sentence-final particles are used to add emotional or emphatic impact, or form questions. Nouns have no grammatical number or gender, and there are no articles. Verbs are conjugated, primarily for tense and voice, but not person. Japanese adjectives are also conjugated. Japanese has a complex system of honorifics, with verb forms and vocabulary to indicate the relative status of the speaker, the listener, and persons mentioned.
Written Japanese still makes prevalent use of Chinese characters, known as kanji (漢字, lit. Han characters). The Japanese writing system also uses two unique syllabic (or moraic) scripts (derived by the Japanese from the more complex Chinese characters): hiragana (ひらがな or 平仮名, 'simple characters') and katakana (カタカナ or 片仮名, 'partial characters'). Latin script (rōmaji ローマ字) is also used in a limited fashion (such as for imported acronyms) in Japanese writing. The numeral system uses mostly Arabic numerals, but also traditional Chinese numerals.
mini is known of the language's prehistory, or when it first appeared in Japan. Chinese documents from the 3rd century AD recorded a few Japanese words, but substantial texts did not appear until the 8th century. During the Heian period (794–1185) in Japan, the Chinese language had considerable influence on the vocabulary and phonology of Old Japanese. Late Middle Japanese (1185–1600) included changes in features that brought it closer to the modern language, and the first appearance of European loanwords. The standard dialect moved from the Kansai region in the south, up to the Edo region (modern Tokyo) in the Early Modern Japanese period (early 17th century–mid 19th century). Following the end of Japan's self-imposed isolation in 1853, the flow of loanwords from European languages increased significantly.
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